DON’T RUSH ME


If I hear the Little Drummer Boy beating that drum once more, I’ll kick a hole in it.  And Rudolph.  Don’t even go there.  Why someone hasn’t taken that poor reindeer to a doctor for that red nose, I’ll never know.  I love the Christmas music, but it began being piped throughout all the stores (along with the Christmas decorations) before Halloween.  Our local radio station  has played every Christmas song invented 24 hours a day since the beginning of December.  I know what you are thinking: “change the station,   Stupid!” But actually, it is quite  pleasant.  Even Rudolph!

The season has changed immeasurably since my childhood.  The things I remember, my grandchildren have never experienced, but then the things MY grandmother enjoyed, seem antidiluvian.  I’m not sure which is better.  The best present I ever received was a red-and white checkered rag doll I saw high on a shelf in the dime store when I was six.  They don’t even have dime stores anymore!  Of course NOTHING was ever a dime even then, and during the Great Depression, even a dime would be too much for some.

Today’s wish list runs to X-Box, IPads, Kindles, etc., draining the wallets of indulgent parents by mega-bucks.  The Norman Rockwell vision of Holidays is simply that; a vision.  The answer is just relax and enjoy it, it is what it is.  Like the 10,000 teenagers yapping away on their cell phones in the mall.  Of course, they do this soundlessly, because of non-stop texting.  It is amazing to me that a teenager can be present at a family dinner, cell phone in lap, and carry on a fairly lucid conversation while meanwhile notifying all of their friends of even the most minute details of their existence.  Talk about multitasking!

But the tech world has captured all of us.  “I have to start the going to bed ritual 30 minutes before I have to actually be in bed.  Plug in personal cell (android, so it soaks battery juice like a Hoover.)  Work cell (Iphone and this one sucks like a Dyson,) IPad touch, IPad and Jawbone bluetooth headset.  The sad thing is I can’t remember my life before I had more phones than pockets.”

That last part, is not exactly true for me, but I’m sure it is a daily thing for a lot of people today.  And our kids will have to cope with even more tech as the years go by, so they may as well sharpen their wish lists in 2011.

My cards have been sent, the packages wrapped, Christmas cakes baked and distributed, Hanukah greetings sent, and special phone calls made, so I’m ready to relax and dance around the room to Rudolph’s cheery bounce.  I hope you do the same.

FOOTNOTES TO LIFE


Julian Barney defines the difference between youth and age: “When we are young, we invent different futures for ourselves.  When we are old, we invent different pasts.”  We have no regular rite of passage prompting people to do so.  But it’s hard to tell a story before it ends.

We are not blank slates.  David Brooks correctly states that we are players in a game we don’t understand.  Our perceptions and memories are slippery, especially regarding our own roles in the game.  It seems that old people regularly rewrite history, purposely or not.  I have a friend who says “it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, as long as it’s interesting.”  I have to agree, because does it really matter to anyone if Aunt Hazel had two cats or ten?

I have always said that we should reinvent ourself every ten years.  The photo albums especially need to be edited that often. It’s nice to save photos  so our children can at least recognize us, but do we really need the picture of that beehive hairdo, or the circle skirts of the ’50’s?  And white go-go boots?  Oh my goodness!   But I bought a leopard handbag and belt in the 60’s that my daughter still remembers, and I told her if she really liked it all that much she can have it someday, because I still have it

However it isn’t just the women.  The hairy sideburns of the ’70’s, went well with the plaid golf pants and the gold chains, but today?  I don’t think so.  Dr. Advice luckily never invested in the gold chains for himself, and that’s a good thing, but he did have the golf pants.

And you know  about the new look today:  all it takes is looks and a whole lot of money.

But “the best thing you’re ever going to do, you haven’t even thought of yet.  You’re just getting started.”

PUT THE ONION ON


Two or three afternoons  a week, at four or five o’clock, Great-Aunt Helen would announce to her friends over the bridge table ,”Got to run home quickly and put the onion on!” This was a subterfuge she had used for some 45 years to mislead her husband that his dinner was on the way!  (The odor of frying onions is irrisistible to a hungry man.)

She lived in a large old Victorian house which had been built by my Great Grandfather in the 19th century.  My husband and I rented the third floor attic from her for three years for the exhorbitant amount of $35 per month when we first married 65 years ago.

Aunt Helen was a larger than life individual with strong opinions, but a grand sense of fun.  Her colorful conversation was scattered with outrageous observations, many of which dealt with her painful feet.  She wore old-fashioned “sensible” shoes, except on bridge days, when she put on her one pair of dress-up shoes, which she referred to as her “sitting shoes”.  She remained a farm girl who happened to live in the city. 

Upon arriving home from an afternoon of bridge, and before removing her hat, girdle or dress-up shoes, she quickly chopped up an onion and put it on the stove to work its odiferous magic.

Uncle Fred worked in San Francisco and had taken the ferry to and from Alameda each day for 40 years.    Arriving home at precisely 5:30 every day and entering by the front door, at approximately the same time as Aunt Helen was coming in by  the rear door, he was able to smell the delicious and intoxicating odor of onions cooking, and contentedly settled his portly little body into his large comfy chair to read the evening paper.

Misleading, yes, but comforting to a weary husband after a hard day’s work.  Today’s version might be a welcoming glass of wine rather than an onion, and possibly today’s husband might even chop the onion!

Simpicity at its best!

THE CIRCLE


All is a circle within me.  I am ten thousand winters old.  I am as young as a newborn flower.

I am a tree in bloom.

All is a circle within me.

I have seen the world through an eagle’s eye.  I have seen it from a gopher’s hole.

I have seen the world on fire and the sky without a moon.

All is a circle within me.

I have gone into the earth and out again.  I have gone to the edge of the sky.

Now all is at peace within me.  Now all has a place to come home.   (Nancy Wood)

 

Navajo Grandmother

kayti rasmussen

ALTRUISM


The supposedly virtuous act of giving is often instead an act meant to create an obligation, an act whereby the giver measures himself against the receiver and requires a repayment, even if that repayment is gratitude.

A  Navajo couple in New Mexico had a child after hoping for one for many years.  The child died, and the mother was plunged into a deep chasm of grief.  She became reclusive, and could not gather enough strength to do even basic tasks.  She was told that she would never bear another child, and her family despaired that she would ever be the same.

Her much younger unmarried sister suddenly disappeared, which made the woman’s melancholy even worse.  No one knew where she had gone, or with whom.  No one else was missing from their village.

One day nearly a year later, the sister reappeared with a tiny baby girl.  She gave no explanation as to what had transpired during her absence, but later it was learned that she had met a Yaqui Indian man who had agreed to be the father of a child with her.  This was the child that she brought to give to her grieving sister.

This then, was a very high form of altruism.   (This is a true story of people I have known.)

Navajo Mother & Child  by KSR

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DOG OR CAT?


It is a fairly well accepted fact that we anthropomorphize our pets far too often.  So, as a silly reversal of roles, how would you characterize yourself?  Cat or dog?  Both animals have admirable qualities, so to claim to be one or the other will not denigrate you.

Either specie of course has its moments of both acrimony and devotion just as we humans do.  The dog of course, at his best is described ad infinitum as loyal, trustworthy, helpful, obedient, etc., while the cat fairly or unfairly, takes the rap for being independent, arrogant, sneaky, and choosy, these extremes of behavior  are not necessarily bad qualities.

The dog can be taught to bring you your slippers, paper, or a toy.  With some effort on your part he can be taught to ring a bell to exit the house, or retreive the mail, or any number of simple chores and tricks.  The cat, on the other hand chooses not to do any of the above.

Does this show a more advanced brain power, or a perversity of character?  The cat is obviously exercising his power of choice.

If you have chosen to emulate the dog, does this mean that you have no mind of your own, only languishing until your orders come through?  If you have chosen to be the cat, this does not unquestionably categarize you as  an independent thinker.  There are no ordinary cats or dogs.  Ask anyone who lives with either.

If I were a cat, I would choose to be Saki’s cat Tobermory, blatently blowing the whistle on  all the rule-breakers;  and delightedly gloating at the reactions of all the people I have offended.   Or I would be like Judge Judy, who invariably pinions the wrongdoers with a few sharp insights.  My attitude would be “if you get yourself into trouble, you have to get yourself out”.

On the other hand, if I were a dog, I would be a guide dog for the blind, who, like Palinurus, would guide and protect those in my charge.

So, take your choice—–dog or cat??

LEARN TO WRITE


According to an old joke (perhaps a true story), there’s this ad in a magazine:

Learn to write novels.

Easy-to-understand instructions.

Send $20.

You send money to the given address and in return they send you a dictionary with the instructions “Some assembly required.”

Joke aside, that’s all there’s to it really, whether you want to write stories, poems, or novels, though learning that assembly takes time and practice, often years.

Writing is crafted by putting together small blocks to make bigger ones, letters to words, words to sentences, sentences to paragraphs, and so on.

If enough people insist that something is true (or false, right (or wrong), a heck of a lot of people will believe it.  Especially if the insisters are persistent, charismatic, popular and/or attractive.

Photographs are stories spoken in an international language.

Thought for the day: ” Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows , bringing light to bear on the dark corners where toubles fester.  The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”  Sidney J. Harris, journalist and author

LANGUAGE OF COLOR


The boy spoke little; only when necessary, and then mostly in single syllables.  He had been adopted into a loving family as a newborn, along with another newborn boy, who took care of most of the conversation for both of them.

His mother had what she called “smiling” classes with both babies and whoever happened to be around long before he could walk, just to get a glimmer of sparkle from him.

As the years progressed, he became familiar with tests, therapists and doctors to no avail.  He showed an interest in art and music, so when he was five, his mother took him to a children’s concert in San Francisco.  Though she chattered about the music on the drive home, he gazed out the window with no response.  That night she told his father the afternoon had been  another failure.

In the morning, coming down for breakfast, she found the boy had taped sheets of printer paper together which stretched across  the floor.  On this “canvas” he had drawn the entire orchestra he had seen the day before.

He seemed to favor a cartoon medium for his drawing, and drew comic strips which his mother put onto the family Christmas cards.  His interests were his drawing, the computer and briefly, piano.  He tried to stay in his room most of the time, preferring to be alone with his computer.   He was very close to his brother, who found nothing strange in his behavior, nor did the neighborhood kids who included him in their games as long as he was willing to stay.  But to his parents and everyone else, he remained a stranger.

When he was twelve, his mother asked if I would mentor him as an art instructor.  Though I had known him since he was first in their family, I was hesitant.  He had been tested by experts in their field, and his parents had given him every opportunity that money and love could give.  I wondered if the fact of his adoption was the cause of his lack of response.  It must be difficult to wonder why your birth parent “gave” you away.  In spite of being in a loving family, with parents, grandparents, and a sibling, there must always be a lingering question.

He came to me once a week for about a year, and we covered art exhibits and museums and tried “off-the-wall” drawing.  I talked; he didn’t.  I tried not talking so much and he didn’t either.  It was abundantly clear that there was an unhappiness somewhere in his psyche.

One week there was an exhibit at my home gallery of a woman who did very large, very vivid abstract oil paintings.  As I unwrapped them for hanging, it was obvious that they  were more or less divided into two genres;  happy and unhappy.  She was an artist unfamiliar to me, so as we sat and talked over coffee she explained the reason for the difference.

She had been very ill for a long time; had not been expected to live.   Gradually she had gotten well and had resumed painting.  It explained the brilliant color, and the difference between the two groups.

When she was in distress, her paintings were wild with red, black and bright greens.  As her health returned, the colors were softer and happier.

The color red symbolizes danger, stop, and anger.  In other words, keep away.  But red also means excitement, and extrreme happiness!  Black is certainly unhappy, as were all of her violent brushstrokes and jabbings in mismatched color.  She had clearly shown her feelings in paint, just as she did in her “well” paintings, though the brushstrokes and color were still bold.  You felt the artist speaking to you.

As we toured the exhibit, I told the boy that I was so happy to be an artist, because you could put all your feelings on canvas, paper or whatever you chose to paint on.  Just the color alone did all the talking necessary.  You could show your unhappiness, and joy.  You just had to learn the language of color.

I made a self mocking remark and he gave me a weak chuckle!  In the year we were meeting, it is the only response I had from him.  I felt a failure at mentoring, so we stopped meeting.

The boy became extremely tech savvy, and unbeknownst to his parents, he discovered both of his birth parents.  They had married, though not to each other, and had families in the Midwest.

As a teenager, he went back to meet all of them, a trip which was highly successful.  In the ensuing years, they have exchanged visits a number of times and here in California meeting with his adoptive parents as well.

He now lives in San Francisco, and works as a performance artist.

Bammie & the Boys

Jazz

Oil painting

kaytisweetlandrasmussen

Don’t Worry Be Happy

Clay sculpture

kaytisweetlandrasmussen

THE MANY FACES OF MATA ORTIZ


In a small village at the end of a long dirt road, magic happens every day.  It is an earthly magic, worked by men, women and children at kitchen tables and in backyards all over town, and its elements are very simple.

A handful of mud.

A few sticks and stones and human hairs.

A pile of cow manure or sometimes cottonwood bark, a splash of kerosene, a quick fire.

But out of the smoke and ashes comes something greater than the sum of these homely parts: beautiful pottery.  Seventy-five miles due south of the “boot heel” jog in the New Mexico border, in the heart of the Casas Grandes region of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. the master potters of Mata Ortiz turn dirt into art.

Not too many years ago, an American man was sifting through “treasures” at a garage sale in Texas, when he spotted two unusually beautiful pots.  “Where did these come from?” he asked.  A shrug of the shoulders was his answer, but persisting, he discovered that the pots were from Mata Ortiz in Mexico, where the pots were indeed beautiful, but the output was small.

As he was on vacation, he drove down to the village and found the potter who was responsible for the ceramics.  The village was poor, and most of the people indifferent.  The American foresaw a lucrative business for the entire community if they were all involved  in the manufacture of pottery.

Today, most of the people either hand-build the pots, decorate, contribute to the firing, which is done in the age-old way, just as the native American potters from New Mexico and Arizona have always fired: without electric kilns.

To watch these artisans work is quite marvelous.  From the hand building process to the hand decorating it is indeed magic.  Fine lines may use a brush with only one hair, and the pattern is never written down.  They may divide the pattern into sections which revolve around the pot, and somehow it always comes out even no matter how intricate.

With the aid of the American, they developed a marketing strategy, and today the Mata Ortiz pots are among the most sought-after with collectors.

Mata Ortiz pot

Manolo Rodriguez

Apache, Stone

kaytisweetlandrasmussen

HIKING 101


It became much more fun when there were four of us instead of just the two, and we couldn’t wait to introduce both grandsons (there were only two at that time) to the high country we loved.  They had been good campers since the age of two, but children were not allowed to backpack until the age of seven, so only the older brother went first.  To illustrate our enthusiasm for the long hike, I made a quilt showing everything we might see (excluding the bears!)  As children do, he became an instant expert when we got on the trail, and after a week of sleeping under the stars and catching the small silvery trout which waited for his hook, he was ready to go home and impress his younger brother with tall tales of the weeks’ events.

Two years later, both boys were able to go, and as sometimes happens with all of us, the things you have most looked forward to become a little scary when you finally get to do them.  The older brother was in a state of high excitement, but the seven year old approached the start of our journey with trepidation.  This hike was in Desolation Valley, and  would eventually take us to 9600 ft. elevation.  We joined a small group in a boat which took us across the lake from civilization to the trailhead where we were all on our own.  Dr. Advice and I had climbed in this area a number of times and though we would cover a lot of territory, it would be an easy hike for the boys.  We paired up with me walking with the younger boy who gradually seemed to become more comfortable both with his pack and with the whole adventure.

Though it was August, as we climbed we ran into snow, which became a little deeper as we progressed.  In the mountains you become used to looking for landmarks, and there are many along this trail including the lake where we would be spending our first night.  The lake lies at the base of a group of rugged peaks which resemble nothing more than a moonscape.  Quite recognizable, and not too far from where we started.  We learned years ago to carry a police whistle in case of emergency, and though the boys each carried their own sleeping bags plus their whistle, Dr. Advice and I divided the rest of the gear.  I could see a familiar dogleg coming up ahead, and told my small companion that we would take it and catch them up as the trail straightened.

However, all trees look alike in the forest, and all trails look alike under a blanket of snow, so when I realized we were not coming out in the same spot I had hoped for, I blew my whistle and we listened for an answering tweet which came right away, but on the second try there was no reply.  Not to worry , I told my little friend whose blue eyes were getting larger and more concerned;  we will recognize those crazy moonscape mountains in no time.  By this time, I was getting a little worried myself, and did not follow the second rule in mountaineering:  stay where you are and wait till you are found.

By this time it was afternoon, and we had climbed atop a large rock to see if either the lake or the craggy peaks were visible.  My small partner was in a state of despair, and in no mood to play games such as blowing our whistles and yelling for help.  He worried about where we would sleep or eat, and I assured him we had all the right stuff to survive the night if it should come to that (which it would not of course).  We blew whistles and counted to ten, and after a few minutes of this activity, we finally heard the welcome answering call.

It seemed we were about a quarter mile above the lake, and they had been waiting for us to arrive for some time, with the older boy also anxious about sleeping and eating.  They actually DID have all the food, and we had the small tent in case of a sudden rain squall, which happens frequently at that elevation.  So we climbed (slid) down and they climbed up, and we set up camp for the first night in the Wilderness.

The rest of the week went well, and the rocks were bare of snow which made climbing easy.  The boys were delighted with the small alpine lakes where they could bathe and fish, and once they were convinced that no one else was there and could not see them, they stripped off their clothes and jumped in the icy water.

That trip took us to Dick’s Peak at 9600 feet, and was a great introduction to the pleasure of wilderness camping and gave them a good foundation for many years’  of enjoyment.

My  little trail partner has become a wildlife biologist, and his older brother has the  avocation of horses, fishing and hunting.